Monday, June 7, 2010

History Nerdiness Takes No Vacations, Part 7 (Seriously. Seven.)

It has, admittedly, been a while since we last visited the world of the evolution of the battleship.  But the story isn’t quite over, so here we go.

USS Texas got a second lease on life after the Washington Naval Conference, but that new life required a major upgrade.

This is the USS Texas in 1914, shortly after completion:

This is the USS Texas as she is now:

You’ll notice that there are a few differences.  And those differences are extremely instructive when discussion the navies that went to war in 1914 vs. the ones that fought from 1939-1945.

One of the obvious differences (which, admittedly, is hard to see) is the installation of these.

And these.

And these.

To the uninitiated, those are anti-aircraft guns, 40mm Bofors quad mounts, 20mm cannons, and 3 in cannons, respectively.  The aircraft wasn’t really an issue in World War I, at least as far as the naval battles were concerned.  True, the British did deploy a seaplane tender at the Battle of Jutland, but it was only for spotting purposes.  As discussed in the previous post, it wasn’t until the Mitchell tests that the idea of using aircraft in attack roles against capital ships began to be seriously discussed.

There is also the matter of the masts.  Texas, like the other American battleships of the age, was originally designed with a so-called cage mast.  They gave American ships a distinctive outline, but were relatively weak.  The renovations switched to the bigger, stronger tripod masts, which could hold more equipment and were less likely to collapse.

The secondary armament of 5” guns was reduced to a battery of six and moved to a covered “air castle” area on the foredeck.  On the later North Carolinas, South Dakotas, and Iowas (not to mention basically every battleship in the world) the secondary armament would be built in to its own set of dual turrets.  The weapons were also capable of elevating to nearly ninety degrees and used as dual-purpose anti-ship and anti-aircraft weapons.

In case you’ve noticed, there’s a theme developing here.

Also, you can’t see it any more, since it’s not there, but in this picture you can see two cranes on either side of the middle turret.

Those cranes, as best I can tell, were always on the Texas, although I’m not entirely sure why.  But in 1919 they became airplane cranes with the installation of a floatplane catapult on top of the middle turret.  Texas was the proof of concept ship for the idea in the US Navy, proving that floatplanes as scouts and spotters were valuable additions to the arsenal.

You’ll also notice if you look at the hull in that last picture that the ship’s hull seems to bulge outwards.  This was the other major aesthetic change made during the overhaul of the 1920s.  Those bulges are known as torpedo bulges.  Below the waterline they’re actually separated from the hull like the floats on a catamaran and their entire purpose is to absorb the kinetic energy and explosion from a torpedo impacting the side of a warship.

It’s not really possible to see from the pictures I have, since I never made it down in to the engineering spaces, but the overhaul also included a switch from coal-fired boilers to oil-fired boilers.  This didn’t do anything to increase the ship’s speed, but it did increase the ship’s range.

Incidentally, the addition of the huge numbers of anti-aircraft guns also increased the crew necessary to serve the ship.  When launched, Texas had a complement of 954.  When she went to war in 1941 it was with over 1700 souls aboard.

The ship was, undoubtedly, cramped.  And by “undoubtedly,” I mean, “I was in one of the bunk rooms.  It was crowded.”  Also, there was this lovely spot where there were four bunks just strapped in to one of the main passageways of the ship.

I can assure you of one thing.  I would never, ever have been able to live aboard the USS Texas.

From the modifications made in 1925-26 it should be patently obvious that by the mid-1920s it was obvious that the airplane was the wave of the future.  The queen of the ocean was attempting to evolve to keep up with the new dangers and take advantage of the new capabilities.  Modifications to the Texas were relatively primitive, cobbled-together modifications of an apex predator from a previous age.

The WWI battleships that survived through the 1920s, pressed in to much longer service lives by the Washington Naval Treaty and the later London Treaty, were eventually overshadowed by a new generation of sleeker, faster, more powerful battleships.

There were the German behemoths Bismarck and Tirpitz.

The powerful British King George Vs.

The American North Carolinas and South Dakotas.

Then there were the Japanese Yamato and Musashi, nearly 20,000 tons heavier than the next-heaviest battleships.

And, of course, my all-time favorites, the Iowa-class.*

But could they evolve enough to stop the single most important weapon unleashed on the world in the years prior to World War II?


*The pictures of BB 60, the USS Alabama, and BB 62, the USS New Jersey, are the ships as they are now, playing the role of museum ships.  I'm probably the only person on the planet who wants to take a vacation to Mobile, Alabama, specifically to see a World War II battleship.

On another note, ladies, I'm quite available for reasons I can't seem to understand.

Oh, and all pictures that weren't taken by me in this post come from the Wiki, so they're not so much copyrighted...

1 comment:

Fiat Lex said...

Geds, these posts are so cool. Sometime in between writing novels, you could take a break and write a really gripping and joyful book about battleships. I bet there's tens of thousands of history nerds, sailors, or David Weber fans with a technical bent that would be all over the purchase of such a book.

Who knows, some of them might even be ladies!